Summit: Employers want, need bigger role in workforce training

150 150 Justin Ewers

For California to develop the workforce it needs to remain globally competitive, employers must be given ways to play a larger role in the state’s workforce training system, the California Economic Summit emphasized in a letter to the task force charged with making community colleges more responsive to the state’s economy.

The letter comes in response to a set of draft recommendations issued earlier this summer by the Task Force on Workforce, Job Creation, and a Strong Economy, a group formed in 2014 by the community college system’s Board of Governors to identify ways the colleges could provide workers with skills and credentials that can match employer needs and fuel a strong economy. The draft proposals include strategies for aligning student outcome and labor market data, updating community college curricula to better match workforce needs, expanding successful “career pathway” programs, and improving coordination and funding streams across the state’s economic regions.

The Task Force consists of leaders from the business community, labor groups, and public agencies involved in workforce training and K-12 education, along with two representatives from the California Economic Summit.

“As members of the Workforce and Advancing Manufacturing Action Teams of the California Economic Summit, we support the draft recommendations and urge the Task Force to swiftly complete its charge and submit its conclusions to the board,” Alma Salazar, vice president of education and workforce economic development at the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and Chris Harrington, executive director of the Center for a New California, write in the Summit letter. “We believe the recommendations are an essential next step to improving California’s competitive advantage in the global marketplace and to enabling more Californians to secure employment above the minimum wage.”

With the Task Force expected to release a set of final recommendations later this year, the Summit letter outlines five ways the draft proposals could be refined, clarified, and strengthened.

“Overall, the recommendations with some refinements would provide a good foundation to the important initiative. But the recommendations and the work of the Task Force are only a start,” the letter says. “The members of the California Economic Summit recognize these proposals will require a fundamental shift in the way sectors work together and current systems function. Achieving cultural change is a full community responsibility and ultimately must occur at the local level. Working within California’s economic regions and local communities, we are prepared to provide support for these ideas—and assist with their implementation.”

The Summit’s five ideas for strengthening the Task Force recommendations are summarized below. (For more detail, read the full letter here.)

  1. Employers need a larger role in the solution at the level of design, execution and funding. Employers are an essential part of the “community” in community colleges. Organized into industry clusters, they can play a critical role in ensuring community college curricula adequately prepares students for success.
  2. Student motivation is critical to program and student success. Employers can also play a larger role in keeping students motivated—an essential component of successful education programs. As partners in career pathway strategies, employers can help students see the tangible opportunities that can result from hard work, while also playing the critical mentorship roles.
  3. Bolstering the skills of instructors will require multiple approaches. While procedures and professional development resources need to be constantly refreshed, employers can play a valuable role as partners to recruit instructors, develop their skills as teachers, and continuously update their knowledge of what is required in the workplace.
  4. While more funds are needed for career technical education (CTE) programs, colleges must make sure that existing resources are deployed to the most valuable programs. In public and private sector organizations, discontinuing low-value activities can be as difficult as initiating high-value activities. Employers can play a role in developing incentives—for innovative approaches to instruction, regulatory procedures, as well as funding—that lower the risks of testing new programs and encourage the evolution of program offerings to maximize career benefits for students.
  5. Industry-generated assessments should be used to improve the entire value chain. Industry-based standards and assessments can be an efficient and effective mechanism for assessing curricula and programs, measuring student progress and preparation, and supporting a culture of continuous improvement. Developing this platform around industry clusters, for example, can allow employers to better engage with institutions—making it easier for students to tap into resources from multiple different colleges, while also allowing employers to more easily recruit new employees.

Justin Ewers

All stories by: Justin Ewers